Lee Anderson stripped of Tory whip over Sadiq Khan comments

<span>Lee Anderson was deputy chair of the Tory party until last month.</span><span>Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA</span>
Lee Anderson was deputy chair of the Tory party until last month.Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Lee Anderson has been stripped of the Conservative whip after refusing to apologise for remarks about Sadiq Khan on GB News that the London mayor described as “Islamophobic, anti-Muslim and racist”.

The MP for Ashfield’s comments on Friday night caused widespread outrage, and Khan accused the former Tory deputy chair on Saturday of “pouring fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred”.

Former Conservative cabinet ministers and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) joined the opposition in lambasting the remarks. An hour after Khan’s response on Saturday, the Conservative chief whip, Simon Hart, suspended the whip. Anderson will now sit as an independent.

A spokesperson for Hart said: “Following his refusal to apologise for comments made yesterday, the chief whip has suspended the Conservative whip from Lee Anderson MP.”

Anderson, who resigned as Tory deputy chair last month in order to rebel against Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill, had told GB News Khan had “given our capital city away to his mates”.

“I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan, and they’ve got control of London,” he said.

Khan condemned Anderson’s comments in a Sky News interview on Saturday and said: “I am afraid the deafening silence from Rishi Sunak and from the cabinet is them condoning this racism. I am afraid it confirms to many people across the country that there’s a hierarchy when it comes to racism.

“I am unclear why Rishi Sunak, why members of his cabinet aren’t calling this out and aren’t condemning this. It’s like they are complicit in this sort of racism. The message it sends is Muslims are fair game when it comes to racism and anti-Muslim hatred. It’s not good enough in 2024 in the United Kingdom.”

The MCB had earlier called for Anderson to be kicked out of the parliamentary Tory party. It said the MP’s comments were disgusting and criticised the “silence of the party in the face of such extremism”.

A spokesperson said: “In a week where we learn of an explosion in Islamophobic hate crimes, influential MPs and a donor to the Conservative party are endorsing common talking points that peddle conspiracy theories and Islamophobic tropes of alleged Muslim takeovers of our country.”

The anti-racism campaigners Hope Not Hate called on Sunak to expel Anderson from the Conservative party with immediate effect for “stoking the flames of the far right”.

Senior Tories expressed their disgust at Anderson’s remarks, with the former chancellor Sajid Javid branding them “a ridiculous thing to say”.

The business minister Nus Ghani said: “I have spoken to Lee Anderson. I’ve called out Islamic extremism – and been attacked by hard-left, far-right and Islamists. I don’t for one moment believe that Sadiq Khan is controlled by Islamists. To say so is both foolish and dangerous. Frankly this is all so tiring.”

The Conservative peer Gavin Barwell, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff in No 10, described Anderson’s comments as a “despicable slur”.

Neil Garratt, the leader of the Conservatives at city hall, said he had “no shortage of criticisms of Mayor Khan” but that “he is not an Islamist, he is not in the pockets of Islamists, and I completely disagree with anyone who says otherwise”.

The shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, said Anderson’s remarks were “a total disgrace”.

Anderson issued a statement to GB News after being suspended, in which he said: “Following a call with the chief whip, I understand the difficult position that I put both he and the prime minister in. With regard to my comments, I fully accept that they had no option but to suspend the whip in these circumstances.

“However, I will continue to support the government’s efforts to call out extremism in all its forms, be that antisemitism or Islamophobia.”

The defence secretary, Grant Shapps, distanced himself from Anderson’s remarks on Saturday morning but stopped short of calling for him to lose the whip.

“It’s certainly not the way I would put things. I think there are more concerns about the way that some of these [pro-Palestinian] protests have been taking place, in particular what we saw projected on to parliament this week, but I certainly wouldn’t phrase things like that,” he told BBC Breakfast.

Anderson is just one MP the Conservatives are facing calls to censure. The former prime minister Liz Truss was heavily criticised for using a talk at the Conservative Political Action Conference (Cpac) in the US to claim her efforts to cut taxes were sabotaged by the “administrative state and the deep state”.

She also took part in an interview with Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and remained silent as he hailed the far-right figure Tommy Robinson a “hero”.